Coping With The Loss of a Loved One
- Musician and singer-songwriter Carly Simon took to her social media this week to share a heartwarming photo of herself standing in between Joanna, an opera singer, and Lucy, a musical composer, who both passed away last year from cancer, just one day apart.
- Carly, who is one of the four Simon siblings, lost her eldest sister Joanna, 85, to thyroid cancer, just one day before her sister Lucy, 82, succumbed to metastatic breast cancer.
- For the SurvivorNet community, the passing of Carly Simon’s siblings is powerful reminder that if someone in your family has cancer you may be at higher risk and it may be helpful to think about genetic testing.
- Dealing with the loss of a loved one to cancer is incredibly challenging, but moving forward with the lessons your loved one shared and remembering you don’t have to forget them can be a great place to start.
- Grief is an unavoidable and important part of healing following the loss of a loved one to cancer, and talk therapy can be a useful tool to cope.
The 80-year-old musician and singer-songwriter’s sisters, Joanna and Lucy Simon, died last year after battling thyroid and breast cancer. Carly, who is one of the four Simon siblings, lost her eldest sister Joanna, 85, to thyroid cancer, just one day before her sister Lucy, 82, succumbed to metastatic breast cancer, Lucy’s daughter revealed last year. Their deaths followed their brother Peter, a photographer, who died of cancer at age 71 in 2018.Read More
She captioned the post: “Sisters,” alongside star, heart, and cloud emojis.View this post on Instagram
All three sisters were photographed smiling alongside each other at an event, with Carly donning sunglasses and a dark green form-fitted dress.
It’s unclear when the photo was taken, but the three sisters looked incredibly happy to be in each other’s company.
Lucy sadly passed away on October 20, 2022 and one day prior to that, on October 19, 2022, Joanna died.
Following their deaths, Lucy’s daughter Julie Simon shared the tragic news to the Associated Press.
In a statement to the AP, Carly said, “I am filled with sorrow to speak about the passing of Joanna and Lucy Simon. Their loss will be long and haunting.
“As sad as this day is, it’s impossible to mourn them without celebrating their incredible lives that they lived.”
She continued, “We were three sisters who not only took turns blazing trails and marking courses for one another, we were each others secret shares.
“The co-keepers of each other’s memories. I have no words to explain the feeling of suddenly being the only remaining direct offspring of Richard and Andrea Simon.”
The legendary singer concluded by saying her sister “touched everyone they knew and those of us they’ve left behind will be lucky and honored to carry their memories forward.”
For the SurvivorNet community, the passing of Carly Simon’s siblings is powerful reminder that if someone in your family has cancer you may be at higher risk.
Knowing Your Risk: BRCA Gene Mutations and Breast Cancer
In understanding how women’s risk of breast cancer is heightened if the disease is hereditary, it’s important to understand the role BRCA gene mutations play in breast cancer risk, and what these gene mutations actually are.
For starters, BRCA is two genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2). According to the National Cancer Institute, BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene 1) and BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene 2) are genes that produce proteins that work to repair damaged DNA.
The BRCA genes are sometimes referred to as tumor suppressor genes since changes, or mutations, in these genes can lead to cancer.
Everyone is born with two copies of each of the BRCA genes, one inherited from each parent. If either parent carries a BRCA gene mutation, there’s a 50-50 chance the child will carry it as well.
When BRCA1 or BRCA2 have certain mutations, or changes, men and women are at a higher risk level for several cancers, most notably breast and ovarian cancer in women.
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According to the National Cancer Institute, 55 to 72 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 variant will get breast cancer by the time they reach 70 to 80 years old. Similarly, 45 to 69 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 variant will get breast cancer by that same age.
The percentage of women in the general population who will get breast cancer in their lifetime? About 13 percent.
“If a woman has one of these mutations the genetic BRCA1 and (BRCA)2 mutations, it puts her at basically the highest quantifiable risk for getting breast cancer,” Dr. Elisa Port, a surgical oncologist at Mount Sinai, told SurvivorNet. “We typically say between the 60 (percent) and 80 percent range.”
If you have a family history of cancer, like Carly Simon, genetic testing could be one way for you to find out if you have harmful genetic mutations that increase your risk of developing certain cancers. Ask your doctor if genetic testing is right for you.
Dr. Port explained, “We now feel that casting a wider net with genetic testing is probably very prudent because finding out that one has a cancer predisposition gene can definitely change their course, their risk for cancer and what they might want to do about it.”
When to Consider Preventative Surgery for Breast Cancer If You Have a BRCA Mutation
People who have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer may want genetic testing, especially if they have one or more relative(s) who received their diagnosis before age 50. But what do you do if you are at an increased risk for breast cancer because of BRCA mutations?
Dr. Freya Schnabel, the director of breast surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center, says there are three options.
“The first option is intensive surveillance,” Dr. Schnabel told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview. “And this is an option that focuses on early detection of disease if it should occur.”
The second option comes in the form of medication to lower the risk of getting breast cancer.
“Tamoxifen is the one we use in young women, and then aromatase inhibitors can also be used in post-menopausal women, that have been associated with lowered risk for developing hormone sensitive breast cancer,” Dr. Schnabel said.
“So these medications have to be taken for five years, but have a meaningful reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer, especially for BRCA2 carriers.”
Prophylactic (preventative) surgery is the third option. “This is the option that will lower a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer as low as we can get it, because the strategy here is to do surgery to remove the breast tissue as completely as we can,” Dr. Schnabel explained.
She continued, “When these operations are done prophylactically, certainly, no muscles are removed. And, in addition, there is no necessity to remove any lymph nodes, so that we take away some of the side effects and risks that are associated with that piece of the surgery.
“By newer surgical techniques, patients having prophylactic mastectomies will frequently have the option for having the surgery done in a way that preserves the nipple and areola.”
According to Dr. Elisa Port, preventative mastectomies are “really quite effective if done thoroughly.” She says they reduce the risk of developing breast cancer from the highest risk level of 80 to 90% down to the lowest risk level of 1 or 2%.
That being said, there are risks to consider. According to the Cleveland Clinic, a prophylactic mastectomy has the risk of bleeding, infection, loss of sensation in the breast and dissatisfaction with your appearance post-surgery.
Because of this, it’s important to weigh the benefits with the risks with your doctor. If you discover you have a BRCA gene mutation, your doctor can help you understand your unique circumstances and what options may be best for you.
Coping With Loss
Going through stages of grief is something everyone deals with after a friend or loved one passes away from cancer, just Carly Simon dealt with.
Grief is known to “come in waves” and never fully leave you after a loved one has died. To grieve is to have fully loved someone, and that’s a beautiful thing, but the process of grief, can be fulling of missing, longing, and sadness.
Coping with grief after the loss of a loved one, or after a diagnosis of a disease like cancer, can be helped by seeing a psychiatrist, counselor, or oncological social worker.
You don’t have to suffer through your grief alone. Seek outside support when you’ve lost someone close to you.
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff